Hula dance classes help with transformation in San Quentin State Prison
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Hula dance classes help with transformation in San Quentin State Prison

Did you ever think that dancing for prison inmates could help with meditation? Well, think again.

Hula dance classes help with transformation in San Quentin State Prison
The class in San Quentin State Prison practices a moving chant. (Patrick Makuakane)

The word "hula" conjures up a lot of images: beautiful women in grass skirts, coconut bras, a gentle ukelele, tourists enjoying a luau on the lawn at the Hilton Hawaiian hotel — that kind of fun stuff. 

But did you ever think that a room of prison inmates would practice hula dancing?

Twice a week, a small group of men inside San Quentin State Prison in northern California get together and practice hula to help with transformation and meditation. 

Hula is really misunderstood. Over the decades, hula dancing has been made out to be a superficial or fluffy practice. But at its core, the cultural practice of hula is actually a meditation, serving as a way for native Hawaiians to catalogue their ancestry for centuries. Because of its deep spiritual foundation, some inmates have found that hula is helping in their reformation, too.

The prison officially classifies the hula program not as a dance class, but as a spiritual practice.

It operates under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which is a federal act that allows all Native Americans and Native Hawaiians the right to practice their customs freely - even in prison. 

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